07/17/16 Cliff Thornton

This week we talk about racism, violence, and the drug war with longtime drug policy reformer and social justice activist Cliff Thornton.

Century of Lies
Sunday, July 17, 2016
Cliff Thornton
Download: Audio icon col071716.mp3



JULY 17, 2016


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

On the phone with me right now is a drug policy reformer and social justice activist, he has been a friend and mentor to countless people in the drug policy movement, including me. It is an honor to call him my mentor and I'm even more proud to call him my friend. Cliff Thornton, how are you doing, sir?

CLIFFORD THORNTON, JR.: I'm doing fairly well, Doug. It's always good to hear your voice, and good to be on the network. I've been away from it for at least four or five years now, and it's just good to get back and talk to you and listen to what's going on. When we start talking about this race stuff, it's crazy, and it's going to get even worse, because we've never dealt with it. You know the old adage, when a problem first arises, and you don't deal with it, the next time it arises, it has other things, you know.

It first came up, this problem came up in the 50s and 60s, and from that, all the racial strife we were experiencing during the 60s, the Kerner Report came out. The Kerner Report explicitly said that if in fact we don't change our ways we will be living in two societies. And that's just what we have. And, you know, when I say, when this issue arises and we don't deal with it, when it comes back, it's got other problems, and after the 1968 report, voila. There was the war on drugs, started in, I believe, in 1971, and now it, the race issue is back in the picture but it has other things attached to it, and people won't talk about it.

I know, I watched this CNN townhall meeting, and on the panel was Neill Franklin, the one who is heading up LEAP. He had a perfect lead-in, when he talked about Gray being killed in Baltimore, and if there wasn't a drug -- war on drugs, there wouldn't, he wouldn't have gotten killed. But then it just started turning into grandstanding, and the point was missed, so it's still very difficult to get in the black community to talk about this issue because, first of all, and foremost, they don't want to talk about it, and secondly, they have no understanding of what's going on.

DOUG MCVAY: Indeed. Now, that's the -- and that's the thing, I mean, on the one hand, we argue that the racial justice issue one reason for legalizing, because these laws are used in an awful way, and are used to bludgeon the communities of color, and to harass and intimidate and to, you know, to keep people down. The other side of that is the, you know, and so we should legalize. Okeh. And yet, when we pass these laws, it doesn't change the racism. It takes away a tool, it reduces the number of people being arrested on particular -- on a particular charge, but it doesn't really eliminate the problem. And that's --

CLIFFORD THORNTON: No, everything you said is exactly correct. What the black community hasn't picked up on is the legalization aspect, and the monetary end of it. I think there's a few in Colorado who have, and they're working very well. I do know that Shaleen Title and Rachel Kurtz are working toward that end, to get more minorities involved. But it's going to take a massive education project to help bring more blacks in, because we haven't even gotten to the real moneymaker, and that's going to be hemp, over a period of time, with research, it's going to revolutionize three industries: the garment industry, the paper industry, and the food industry. And we have yet, and the black community has yet to get on board on this particular issue.

I tried for two and a half decades to bring this about, with little to no gain in it. So, it's difficult at best. Will it come? Yes, and see, we're only talking about cannabis, and, you know, hemp, and, you know, marijuana. The thing that is most detrimental to the black community is heroin and cocaine, that's, those drugs, with the policies behind them, has really destroyed the black community as I knew it, coming up, and we still won't -- the black community still won't come to grips with it. It's just the same old thing, so, it's difficult at best. And with all of the race stuff that's going on, related to policing, it's perfect, but that issue doesn't come up. I can't believe that in Chicago, they had a conference on the guns and the gun violence, and the drug war was not mentioned. I'm saying to myself, why? Because we all know that this particular era of gun violence grew up with the drug war, which started in '71, and it's been full ahead with the violence associated with the drug war.

These are things that, they're not being dealt with effectively, and quite frankly, I don't think they really understand it. They want, you know, the black community wants to get people off of drugs immediately, and when you start talking about legalizing drugs, they don't see it. The marijuana thing is perfect, but the black community, I feel, and I could be wrong, they're not big on this particular issue. They're just not.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, and it's -- there's a lot -- and there's a lot that stands in the way, too, of getting, of making much progress. Most of these laws as they come through, whether it's the medical or now the adult use legalization -- the adult social use, there are restrictions against people who have some kind of a conviction from getting involved, and, you know, first, the random nature of the criminal justice system is such that simply having a conviction doesn't prove that anyone actually broke any laws, but even if it did, in terms of the drug war, some of those convictions, you know, happen to be on the record of people who are among the most entrepreneurial minded in a community.

CLIFFORD THORNTON: I mean, you're right, Doug, but see, the thing is, very few people, black people that are in the know, let's say, are sitting at the table when these laws come about. I know when I was on the campaign trail, trying to change these drug laws, I always talked about indemnification and or reparations for this, and coupling that indemnification and reparation with the actual training of people to go into those fields, and not only into the field, let's say, of cannabis and hemp, but also into the field of politics, to sit down and explain what is necessarily needed to revamp the black and brown communities, because the policies, the drug policies, have ruined the black and brown communities as I know it.

I mean, you have things, you have businesses that don't want to go in there for fear from the crime and violence. We've got to be realistic. We've always had a racial problem within this country, and housing has always been and continues to be the factor that will improve racial relations. Until we get to that point, and end the drug war with indemnification and reparations, the black community's not going anywhere.

And sadly enough, we've had a president who just, I thought, was very naive when he went into the White House, thinking he was going to work with one of the most homophobic, sexist, racist, classist Congresses ever put together. I mean, you could see that when, at his first State of the Union Address, when the guy said he was lying, one of the Representatives just -- that's never been done before, that's just total disrespect.

So, the race problem is just going to get exceedingly worse, on both planets, and I think that this Republican convention is going to shed some light on where we're going to go racially. But, see, it doesn't matter. We don't need to study this race problem anymore. The Kerner Report captured all of it. And it -- and when you start to read it, you see that everything it talked about is playing out now, with the exception of the drug war. They didn't quite see what was coming with the drug war, but they did allude to a very bad problem. It was perfect for Nixon. Even with the reports coming back from the Nixon administration, I have yet heard any one of the people running for office talk about this.

And when I listen to Gary Johnson, and on the CNN interview which is great for the Libertarian Party, they caught him in a lie. You know, he said he wanted to legalize all drugs, and when they asked him on the program, he said, no, just cannabis. And the guy played this thing back for him to see it. And see, you can't win doing it that way. You know, that's just my feelings off the top, Doug.

DOUG MCVAY: Well, you see, and that's one of the -- that is actually one of the more disappointing things. I remember years ago, he went to speak to a group of high school kids. He talked about legalization. He got attacked because he dared talk about drugs without, you know, he dared talk about drugs and didn't leave it at "just say no, that's all you need to know, just say no, we're done now." He talked about, you know, that there's -- that legalizing and decriminalizing would be a good idea. He got attacked for it and so he backed away. Oh you're right, we shouldn't talk to young people who will be voting in a year or two, or might be voting in six months, because it's -- because it's about something controversial? I mean, courage of your convictions, you know. So when I saw that, the backing away from heroin decriminalization and legalization, it was just so disappointing, because it's, it's --

CLIFFORD THORNTON: Very much so, and I can remember him and I sitting down and us talking about this. And I told him, I said, you really only want to legalize one drug outright, and that would be cannabis. Heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy, has to be medicalized, and if you don't understand the term medicalization, understand that we have medical marijuana, think of it in that vein. All the rest of the drugs, basically the hallucinogens, should be decriminalized for future debate and true and honest medicinal study. Before we can go anywhere else, we've got to address that, and he seemed to get it, but then he just strays off. He's not impressive to me, he just never has been impressive, because he goes off and does what Trump does, what he wants to do, it's just not right. He's just not together. And I don't know about him. Jill Stein has a pretty good plank on it too, but they're all falling into this cannabis, marijuana trap, and that's true, that's what the movement's been basically about is marijuana, but there's other drugs too that are much more dangerous and they cause much more crime and violence than cannabis does.

DOUG MCVAY: And, let's face it, too, in terms of, it's like harm reduction. The, you know, syringe exchanges, supervised injection facilities, we have these because, you know, blood-borne diseases can be transmitted. You can -- AIDS, HIV/AIDS, there's, you know, there's -- we've been successful at bringing down the rates of transmission of HIV and AIDS and of hepatitis C because of things like syringe exchange, but in places where we don't have it, there is an epidemic that's driven by that. And overdose, I mean, you know, you overdose on marijuana, you might have a panic attack, you'll probably fall asleep, but you're not going to necessarily die, whereas, you know, you can die, I mean, it's, there are millions more users and it's more benign, and you're right, it's more of a -- it's so much a no-brainer to legalize marijuana, but, you know, these other drugs, I mean, for a lot of people, these are really seriously life and death, and it's, I mean, there's a reason we talking about these things.

I'm with you. Year ago, working for NORML, it was more and more frustrating that I had to say, oh, well, NORML doesn't take a position on those things, and, you know, make sure I was absolutely clear before I started saying, but we have to do something because these are serious, you know, and it's -- it's frustrating.

CLIFFORD THORNTON: Right. It's very much so, and it becomes really difficult when you, I remember doing this radio program a couple of weeks ago, and saying that we need safe injection facilities, and the reasons I gave were the same reasons you gave, it stops HIV right in its tracks, and other blood-borne diseases. It stops overdose deaths, it helps prevent these, but you understand this too, that it's not going to do too much to the crime and violence associated with that drug. But the thing that's going to do that is heroin maintenance, and you look at our neighbor to the north, Canada, which has instilled heroin maintenance and it works to perfection. You look at places in Europe, you look at Portugal, I mean, those things, they have medicalized heroin through the heroin maintenance program, and what happens is, they see that there's less and less crime associated with that particular drug.

But when it comes to this country, people just don't want to look, the first thing they want, how are you going to get them off the drugs? How many beds are we going to have to have? If you have these these types of programs in place, you're not going to need that many beds at all, what you're going to do is make sure that the individual has a safe dose of heroin, or, you know, whatever they're using, and go on from there. And what you will see is a reduction in the disease, and a definite reduction in the crime and violence associated with it. But how are you going to get off the drugs? And when you start to explain to them the situation, that the drug treatment becomes most effective when the individual decides that they want to get off, after having the heroin, let's say, dosage, stabilized, and then it becomes a story, a big fight. We want them off drugs. You've got to first understand what drives the addict, and what drives the individual, and understanding that only when they decide it's time to get off, that's when it's going to be most effective. I mean, driving stuff like that home is kind of difficult, because people don't get it. They don't understand it.

DOUG MCVAY: And I think sometimes it's willful, I think sometimes it's willful. I've been reading a book for a different -- for an interview I'm doing on a different subject, it's about the war on terror and the Iraq war, and the central argument is that you start from a -- I mean, traditional methods and such are available, and we have an idea of what might work, what will work, but it's this, you start with fear, and the fear, especially of an unknown, and then the fantasies start to play out, and then panic sets in, and so with panic, you decide to enact these horrible laws and these awful policies that could only backfire in any, you know, and it's pretty obvious, but you don't see that because you're panicking, and so the policymakers panic and enact some kind of heavier laws. Think back to 1986, and the drug bill, and the fear and the panic and the Congress just spiraling out of control, and suddenly we had, you know, that's where you had a bidding war to see who could be more tough on drugs. And it's been just, and, you know, it's been 30 years now of trying to walk back that panic and fear, and the laws that we got as a result. And -- so yeah, I see a lot of parallels, this sort of spiral thing.

CLIFFORD THORNTON: Without a doubt, Doug, and see, when you look at the drug war, and you look at the race issue, and you look at how the black community is responding, no one is talking about that time period you just mentioned, the 80s, when basically the black community, and leading the parade was the black church, asking for more law enforcement within the community. And understand at that particular time, the late 70s, early 80s, is when a lot of federal black Congresspeople was going through, and they were asking for the same thing. So when you start looking at all of these shootings and killings that's happening within the black and brown community, understand that we asked for law enforcement to be there to fight the drug war instead of looking at these critical steps we have to take not to cause that.

And see, again, we did not read the Kerner Report, and the Kerner Report said those racists would go into politics and law enforcement, and that would be very detrimental to the ascent of good race relations. I mean, it goes on and on, it talks about all of that stuff, not necessarily the drug war, but law enforcement in this country, because it's always been associated with slavery, and keeping blacks and browns in line. That's the way law enforcement has always been in this country, since my inception. So, we, the black community, is just as responsible for what ensued as the white community, because we're not looking at the issues and putting them through that critical thinking, which is so necessary to solve any problems. And we're not first of all ready to recognize that we're part of the problem, the black community's part of the problem. Have been.

DOUG MCVAY: In fairness, should mention, by the 90s, by the time Bill Clinton was in office and pushing through his crime bill, there were some in the Congressional Black Caucus who were starting to say, whoa, whoa, hold on now, we've, this, we may have gone too far already.

CLIFFORD THORNTON: Maxine Waters being one of them, correct?

DOUG MCVAY: Yes, yeah.

CLIFFORD THORNTON: Okeh, but what happened to Maxine Waters after she brought, she started talking about the cocaine being dumped on LA, the LA streets, when I do believe, you remember that?

DOUG MCVAY: Yeah, no, and it's a thing, they -- reality. Truth. The truth is that yes, the CIA was involved in all this. Was -- but then, the, you know, people tried to discredit it by spinning it into some massive conspiracy, oh, the CIA scientists invented this stuff and then it's, no, no, it's a thing. They saw, somebody saw an opportunity, some other people decided to let them go ahead with it, and this whole massive thing happened because someone in the background was greasing the wheels, but, you know, that doesn't -- that, those facts are undisputed. And yet, they can -- but they can paint someone as a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist by basically -- well, they set up their own, I think, is it the "strawman", where they set up, where the person on the other side, you know, describes what their interpretation of what you're saying, and adds things to it, and creates a thing that's easy to push over and so they do.

CLIFFORD THORNTON: And you look at, soon after that, Maxine Waters had little to say about any of these things concerning what had happened with the CIA dumping that stuff -- dumping the cocaine in Los Angeles, because they had, they got something on her and they threatened her, to expose whatever that was, I don't know, but she became very silent, as many of them did. I mean, there's just not enough action forward. And Doug, we've got to be realistic here. You open up this drug war box and the roads lead everywhere, and everybody is guilty. That's why, that's one reason why they're not going to talk about it. That's what I believe, I mean, you may have other ideas, but, everyone is implicated. I mean, from the black preacher in the black and brown neighborhoods to the president of the United States. We're all implicated. And I've often said that the biggest drug dealer on this planet is the president of the United States. These policies were held in place by basically him, and just now, you get the fraying of it, I mean, what Portugal did, and what Canada's doing, and planning to do more, is fraying the relationship, and what Mexico is planning to do later on, and what a few other countries in South America have done. So, it is fraying, but it's not helping the black and brown community like I'd like to see it done. It's just not, and people aren't on board, and quite frankly, I'm tired. I'm really tired.

DOUG MCVAY: And we're running close to the end of the half hour, I should remind folks that they're listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I am Doug McVay, your host, and we're speaking with Clifford Thornton, an activist, social justice activist, legalizer, reformer, and my mentor and friend. And, well, Cliff, what should we be doing? I mean, what kind -- in the short term at least, what should we be doing?

CLIFFORD THORNTON: Well, the short term is that, I think, the biggest thrust that will, and I've always thought this, is to prove that heroin can be controlled, and how do you do that? Through first of all introducing them to facilities that are safe where you can inject the drugs, and bring these addicts into the family, and more importantly is to bring in heroin maintenance, to show how in fact an individual working next to you is on heroin. But you would never know it unless they told you. And that's the way these programs are, and it proves to be in the 90th percentile effective. So, that's what we were driving at, that's what we should do, but I don't know if it's ever going to get done. I mean, Obama has been, as far as I'm concerned, he's been a class A failure. And, that's all there is to it. I'm right in line with Cornel West on Obama. I can't help it. That's just how it is.

DOUG MCVAY: Well you, sometimes you have to, you have to just speak your mind. It's, you know, it doesn't help with this "oh but he's our friend on so many things we can't criticize." Like, well, by criticizing, we can remind them of where they should be going. Otherwise, you know -- I mean, that's part of the point.

CLIFFORD THORNTON: Yeah, and you know, putting it through critical thinking, he's only the president, but he could have helped dismantle that drug war to no end, but he didn't. He didn't really touch it. I mean, clemency, okeh, that's fine. Visiting a prison, that's fine. But, he hasn't accomplished anything. He's just -- Doug, you know, I'm just, I am ambivalent about this man. I thought, I didn't think he was going to do anything anyway, when he raised a billion dollars to run for office, I knew he was bought and sold then, so, that was it right there.

DOUG MCVAY: Well I know that a lot of -- I've seen some comments on social media and some people expressing their disappointment, in the last few weeks. I mean, tragedy in Dallas was awful, you know, five people being shot down in the street, five police officers being shot down in the street. It's understandable that the president would travel to Dallas to speak at a service. A lot of people are pointing out, well, he didn't go to speak at Alton Sterling's service, nor at the service for Freddie Gray, nor for Philando Castille, nor for Sandra Bland, or Eric Garner, or Michael Brown, or any of the other, or Zachary Hammond, we should remember everybody here. And all the others. And it's a question of the message, the, and it's, you know, where are you? is the question, I guess, and -- I don't know, that was supposed to be a question but it just started going into nowhere. Sorry.

CLIFFORD THORNTON: You're absolutely correct. I can see his points on all of them, and I said, he's been negligent. But that's just how it is, I mean, he wants to create his legacy about what he did. He did a lot of other things. But we're definitely polarized, left and right. I mean, you've got to look at this and apply critical thinking. What do you call all of those people that voted for him, black, white, or brown, to run for office because he was black? What do you call that? Do you call that racist? Do you call that a sign of the times? What do you call that?

So, there's some answers that we haven't even begun to look to formulate. There's questions we haven't begun to formulate. I never heard anything like that. Not that -- I'm definitely pro-black, but you've got to be realistic about what we're doing. I'm pro-white as well. I'm pro-brown as well, yellow and so forth. But we are, we just don't think critically when we talk about race, we just don't. Never have, and probably never will, not in my lifetime.

DOUG MCVAY: Clifford, I thank you so much, so very much, for your time today, and, you know, I wish you all the best, and thank you. Thank you for everything. I meant all that, you are a great teacher and mentor, and I owe you a lot, and I just thank you.

CLIFFORD THORNTON: I feel the same way about you, too, Doug, because anytime I wanted some information, I got it, and you've always been a stand-up individual, and thank you. You have a great day, my man.

DOUG MCVAY: You too man, you too. Cheers.

That again was Clifford Thornton, he is a drug policy reformer, social justice activist, and a good friend. And well, that's all the time we have today. Thank you for joining us. You've been listening to Century Of Lies, we're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give it a like and share it with friends. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty minutes of news and information about the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.